Monday, March 12, 2012

Bulls 104, Knicks 99 - Recap

What originally looked like a puzzle that would need time to solve, is slowly starting to look like a puzzle with pieces that don't fit. A case of mistaken identity, an identity crisis, an identity-less or unidentified team, whatever you want to call it, the Knicks certainly don't look like they resemble anything that should be called a team. Instead, unfamiliarity amongst a group of talented players, all seemingly with one goal in mind, is beginning to look like a group of isolated individuals unsure of their roles, unwilling to blend, assimilate, and sacrifice what it takes to win.
Photo by Associated Press

Point to what you may. Some will say this needs more time; some will say it's the coach; some will say it's the superstars; some will say it's just an ill-equipped, poorly designed machine whose parts can't function together. Either way this is the current state of the New York Knicks, and to quote Carmelo Anthony, "it sucks".

Call me dramatic ("you're dramatic"), but this team deserves no praise and instead should be critiqued for everything they do wrong. That's what happens when you claim you're going "hunting in Miami"; or when you sing a rendition of Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" but change the words to "champion"; or when you talk about adding a banner in the practice gym that says "2011-12 New York Knicks". Those are bold statements or over-excessive, over-anxious (albeit funny in the case of Landry Fields singing") celebrations for a team that fails to perform even the most simple, fundamental tasks in playing basketball.

Jump for some notes or spare yourself the details and watch a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond, or 30 Rock, or something, and have more fun.

That Was Good
Now, given my above dramatics and disappointment, this game was mostly far better than the performances we'd seen in the previous four losses.

 - The offense is starting to come along. Mike D'Antoni and the players insisted that it would, and to some degree they've been right. I don't want to get carried away because it's still flawed and not helping them win games, but it's looking better than it did a few weeks ago, and certainly better than what we saw through January. Jeremy Lin  is starting to figure his teammates out a little bit better, Carmelo Anthony (21 points, 8-21 FG, 8 rebounds) is showing moments of his normal venomous touch, as is Amar'e Stoudemire (20 points, 7-12 FG, 2 blocks). Those are the three key catalysts. Everyone else is still pretty inconsistent, but they shot 46% FG tonight and scored 99 points against the league's second best defense.

 - Despite more poor shooting from Jeremy Lin, he and Baron Davis are starting to form a pretty reliable tandem. It's hard to put a finger on it because they haven't been wowing lately, but check out their combined numbers tonight: 22 points (15 for Lin, 7 for Davis), 7-17 shooting, 12 assists, 4 steals, 4 blocks (!! 3 from Lin, including a sick swat off the backboard on Derrick Rose!), and 5 turnovers. It's not great and you still get nervous that they're going to mess up when it matters most (Lin did: a costly turnover in the final minutes, and a missed, point-blank, albeit contested layup), but it feels like they're figuring out the offense and understanding their teammates a little better.

 - I guess the Knicks didn't quit. Again. They never seem to quit entirely, but this time Chicago threatened to make runs and balloon the lead in all four quarters, and even when the potential threats turned real, the Knicks clawed their way back and never let the game completely slip from their grasp.

That Wasn't So Good Was Awful
- New section, specially made for tonight's game, because in my eyes, one downfall of the Knicks lost this entire game. And it was awful. Rebounding. The Knicks were out-rebounded 56-38. They gave up 22 offensive rebounds. 22! Twenty-two! Some advanced statistics measure offenses by points scored, assists, etc. per 100 possessions. The Knicks gave up almost a quarter of that in second chances. And the Bulls made good on it as you'd expect the best team in the league to do.

 - Joakim Noah tapped and smacked tip-outs back to teammates, Taj Gibson flat-out worked Amar'e on the boards and grabbed 8 offensive rebounds (five more than Amare'e's rebounding TOTAL for the game), Ronnie Brewer, Jimmy Butler, and Kyle freakin' Korver all were diving and hustling after long rebounds and loose balls. Numerous times the Knicks were caught in races to get the ball back, and numerous times Chicago laid out for it while the Knicks jogged over and stretched from their standing positions and came up empty-handed. It happened to Amar'e, it happened to Melo, it happened to Fields, it happened to Novak, and it was all inexcusable and undoubtedly the reason the Knicks lost.

That Wasn't So Good
 - The Knicks hung around, so it wasn't that the 4th quarter execution sucked, but it faltered at the worst moments. Aside from securing rebounds, Lin committed a costly turnover when the Knicks had the chance to tie or cut the lead to one; Fields bricked an open 3-pointer with 19 seconds on the clock after Lin got an offensive rebound; nobody could find Amar'e Stoudemire who had been drilling jumpshots for the whole second half, and when they finally did, he missed it. Carmelo Anthony went ignored in the post against the diminutive, inexperienced Jimmy Butler. Lin had the aforementioned missed layup, Carmelo Anthony had a missed layup, as well as a few other costly misses late in the game. It was just all very depressing.

 - Mike D'Antoni managed rotations pretty poorly again. Shumpert, who had been playing well and with purpose to my eye, was substituted early in the 4th quarter for Fields and was never seen again. The Knicks could have used him on defense as he was going after rebounds with gusto. Carmelo Anthony started off hot and once again cooled off. My advice for Mike: leave Melo in until he asks to come out or is in foul trouble, because the current substitution pattern is messing with his rhythm. The Knicks' bench faltered early in the 4th, when a one point deficit turned into five or six or seven. The starters probably should have come back in earlier for an ineffective bench.

Odds and Ends
 - I fully expect J.R. Smith to be out of the rotation next game. He missed an open layup again in the first half, and then committed two moronic turnovers back to back in the 4th quarter. He's basically been useless.

 - Tyson Chandler had a terrific game, though he too slacked on the boards. He finished with 13 points, and likewise finished everything around the basket, snagged 10 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. He also played without the bulky guard for his injured left wrist, and didn't seem to be in pain. That's significant, no?

 - Derrick Rose is a freak. That's all.

 - After one play where a clearly aggravated Rose took Lin hard off the dribble and to the basket, Lin came down equally determined on offense, threw a pump fake and drew a foul on Rose. Hubie Brown: "Now this guy Lin, he is one feisty dude!" Indeed, Hubie. Love ya!

 - Did I mention Jeremy Lin swatted one of Rose's shots off the backboard?

And I'm going to bed. Sorry for my antics and dramatics in the opening, but this "sucks". The Knicks are now in 9th place after a Milwaukee win tonight. Soooo... yeah. The next game is Wednesday vs. Portland. And so beats on the drum of a wild, wacky, heart-wrenching season.

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